Bruce Willis And How I Misjudged Him

 I cannot think of a Hollywood star whose career has fallen to even close to the depths that Bruce Willis' has.  Over the last number of years, he has been accused of 'phoning it in', and the lacklustre performances dragged him down to appearing in straight to video films that are some of the worst out there.  As far as Willis' contributions to those movies go, his dialogue has been wooden and flat, with horrendous line delivery.  Four of the worst films I have seen from 2021 were Bruce Willis movies, and sadly his career had turned into a joke.

Now it has been announced that he is retiring, and I am left feeling like a horrible person.

A statement released by his family explained that his career was coming to an end due to his diagnosis with aphasia.  This is a disorder that impacts a person's ability to communicate, and can happen after a stroke, but it can develop due to other reasons.

This is a condition that is incredibly horrible, and one that I didn't even know about until a year ago.  My wife and I have a friend who has had aphasia since early childhood, and, while her hearing is perfect, she cannot understand what people say to her.  Sign language is her main form of communication, and it has left her in a weird land where she isn't a part of the hearing community, but also not a member of the deaf community because she can still hear.  Aphasia has left her in a state of isolation, and it is incredibly painful to hear her story.

Knowing what I do about aphasia, I am so sad to hear about Willis and his diagnosis.  Now so much of the last number of years make sense.  His inability to deliver lines in a natural way is not a statement on his lack of caring about the project he was working on (or so I am assuming), but more a symptom of this disorder.

His career and performances became a punchline to many jokes, and I was more than happy to jump on those.  The problem is that not for one moment did I think there was perhaps a medical reason for how Willis was performing.  I never thought there was a side to this story that I didn't know about.  If anything, I think this situation shows us all how easy it is to forget that life is complex and there could be tangible reasons for what happens in a person's career.

A number of people who have worked with Willis in recent years have commented about his abilities on set.  For Out of Death, a movie I recently reviewed, director Mike Burns was asked to cut some of Willis' dialogue and make sure there were no monologues and that shooting his scenes could take place in one day.  Also, it is reported that an actor fed Willis his lines through an earpiece in some movies.

Whether it was for financial reasons, or because he just couldn't walk away from a career he loved, Bruce Willis continued working much longer than I think a lot of people (myself included) would have.  There must have been feelings of embarrassment due to his limitations, and the fact that he kept showing up to film makes me wonder if I could have done the same thing.

At no point, however, am I going to defend the quality of the films he has been in.  We have an explanation for his performance, but that does not all of a sudden erase terrible dialogue, acting, directing, editing, production design, or every single other area that movies like Cosmic Sin failed in.  These movies are still awful, and having an understanding of what Willis is dealing with does not change my star ratings in any way.

I have been a big Bruce Willis fan for a long time.  My cat's name is John McClane, so that should tell you something about what I feel for that actor.  The saddest part of this is that I saw someone's abilities fall so far from their heights and I didn't for a moment consider that maybe there was an actual reason for it.  It is impossible to say that he didn't stop caring about performances prior to aphasia affecting him.  There is a chance that he just was no longer passionate and that for parts of the last decade he didn’t put in the effort.

There could be some debate over whether the beginning of his declining career was due to aphasia or lack of enthusiasm, but I'm not going to jump into that pool.  What has happened to him is incredibly sad, and I think it best to look at some of his massively impressive career highlights and remember just how amazing he was at his peak.